The 5 principal angas of Bhakti

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In Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, the most treasured treatise on the exalted subject  of bhakti, he has extensively described the 64 angas, or limbs, of bhakti out of which five are considered to be the most prominent: nama-kirtana (chanting the holy name), bhagavat-sravana (hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam), sadhu-sanga (associating with saintly persons), Mathura-vasa (residing in the area of Mathura) and priti-purvak-murti-seva (serving the deities with affection and faith). In this age of Kali, these practices are the most powerful means to attain pure devotional service and thus the ultimate goal of life. Of these, chanting the holy names of the Lord is the yuga-dharma for this age of Kali. Krsna’s holy names are non-different from Krsna Himself and are invested with His unlimited potencies. In Sri Siksastakam Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has glorified the names of the Lord with the following verse:

namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-shaktistatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalaha

etadrishi tava kripa bhagavan mamapi

durdaivam idrisham ihajani nanuragahah

O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krsna and Govinda. In these transcendental names, you have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach you by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.

Although chanting the holy names of the Lord is indeed the most important activity to be performed, the other four prominent angas are instrumental in enabling one to be able to actually chant the names of the Lord with true love and devotion. Srimad-Bhagavatam, the literary incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is a storehouse of Sri Krsna’s transcendental names, forms, qualities, and pastimes, and can thus engage the mind in the thoughts of the Lord. The glories of the Bhagavatam have been mentioned in the Bhagavatam itself in the following famous verse:

nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalaṁ

śuka-mukhād amṛta-drava-saṁyutam

pibata bhāgavataṁ rasam ālayaṁ

muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāḥ

O expert and thoughtful men, relish Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī. Therefore, this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.

In order to be able to understand the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and its teachings, however, one must study this epic literature under the guidance of other self-realized devotees of the Lord who relish the topmost level of love of Godhead. These divine, transcendental subject matters cannot be grasped by the living entities’ minute intelligence, which is covered by the illusory energy of the Lord. For this reason, one must receive these pure teachings from pure sadhus. This makes sadhu-sanga most essential for any practitioner of bhakti. In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Krsna dasa Kaviraja Gosvami has written:

‘sādhu-saṅga’, ‘sādhu-saṅga’—sarva-śāstre kaya

lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya

The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.

The above-mentioned limbs of bhakti are best practiced and performed in the holy land of Mathura-Vrndavana or in Navadvipa-Mayapura, where one is constantly reminded of the Lord, where every place is His pastime place , and where every resident is engaged in His service. The glories of the holy dhamas have been revealed in great literatures like Vrndavana-mahimamria and Navadvipa-dhama-mahatmaya. By reading such books, one can become acquainted with the limitless glories of the holy places where the Lord personally resided and performed His sweet loving pastimes with His eternal associates. If one is not able to physically reside in the beautiful forest of Vrindavan, where the divine couple Radha-Syamasundara perform their enchanting, sweet pastimes, then one should reside there mentally, by always being absorbed in thoughts of this best amongst all holy places.

Since we are in the line of Srila Rupa Gosvami and followers of all six Gosvamis, we should also worship with great love and devotion Krsna’s deity form (sri vigraha), which is non different from Sri Krsna Himself. All the great acaryas in our sampradaya have with great dedication and spontaneous loving devotion worshiped deity forms of the Lord such as Sri Radha Madan Mohan, Sri Govindadeva and Sri Gopinatha. The Sri Gaura-govinda-arcana-smaran-paddhati was written by Srila Dhyanchandra Goswami to teach practitioners of bhakti how to worship the murti form of the deity with great love and devotion, so as to be able to attain love of Godhead.

In this way, all these five angas are extremely conducive for the development of bhakti in the devotees’ hearts and should therefore be taken up by all who are serious about making advancement in their spiritual lives.